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2022 NBA championship race features whole bunch of realistic contenders

James Harden, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez in 76ers-Bucks

Mar 29, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) drives for a score between Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton (22) and center Brook Lopez (11) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Suns should be considered heavy championship favorites. Probably not quite Phoenix vs. the field. But closer to that than the title race is being treated.

However, the people describing this year’s title race as “wide open” are getting something right:

Many teams in the field have a realistic championship chance.

76ers president Daryl Morey once explained what has become known as the “5% Theory.” “If you’ve got even a 5 percent chance to win the title — and that group includes a very small number of teams every year — you’ve gotta be focused all on winning the title,”Morey said. Though 5% might not sound like a lot, it’s plenty in a 30-team league and even a 16-team playoff.

This year, a whopping eight teams have at least a 5% chance of winning the title based on betting odds.

That’s the most entering the playoffs since the 1999 lockout-shortened season (using Sports Odds History for prior years). The last time there were more than even six such teams was 2004.

Here are each playoff team’s 2022 title odds, derived from betting futures:

  • Phoenix Suns 24%
  • Milwaukee Bucks 16%
  • Boston Celtics 10%
  • Golden State Warriors 10%
  • Brooklyn Nets 9%
  • Miami Heat 8%
  • Memphis Grizzlies 7%
  • Philadelphia 76ers 6%
  • Utah Jazz 4%
  • Denver Nuggets 2%
  • Dallas Mavericks 2%
  • Minnesota Timberwolves 1%
  • Toronto Raptors 1%
  • Chicago Bulls 1%
  • Atlanta Hawks 1%
  • New Orleans Pelicans 0%

Two of these 5% teams – Nets and 76ers – traded with each other just before the deadline. At the time of the James Harden-Ben Simmons deal, I noted that it was unprecedented for championship contenders to swap stars during the season. With each title a zero-sum game, contending teams usually try to avoid helping another contender.

But it’s becoming increasingly understandable why Brooklyn and Philadelphia traded with each other.

There were limited other places to turn with more than a quarter of the league in championship contention.